It's stating the obvious to point out that women get a bum rap.
We have, for virtually all of recorded history, been treated as frivolous, inconsistent, vain, foolish, or at best cannily deceptive. Entire bodies of literature are devoted to our malignancy, unpredictability, secretiveness, and childishness, painting a picture of a kind of person no one would want to be. In contrast, of course, to all the virtues of men; "virtue" itself derives from the Latin for "man." Perhaps, then, we shouldn't be terribly surprised at how we're spoken of when the language itself treats masculinity as identical to moral worth.
Concurrently, women who want to succeed in a man's world are advised to act, well, like men. We are too emotional, we're told, to be rational; if we want to command respect, we must shed that. We are too willing to compromise; we ought to stand our ground. We are weak; we must be tough, and constant; we are passive-aggressive where naked aggression is superior.
Femininity is weakness. Masculinity is strength.
The last few years, however, have brought a new mainstream acknowledgement of the counterargument through the rise, first in social media and later percolating up to the larger culture, of the term toxic masculinity. It encompasses a wide range of traditionally "masculine" behaviors broadly boiling down to suppressing emotion as a sign of weakness and using violence or the threat of violence as both an assertion of masculinity and a response to it being challenged.
In other words, we're at a place where the traditional ideas of masculinity and femininity as rational and strong versus emotional and weak are being called into question in the larger culture outside academia for the first time. And going right along with that is questioning the value of the traits we have historically valued. Perhaps "hardness," inevitable double entendre aside, isn't the virtue we've been led to believe it is. Perhaps, in fact, it's very much the opposite, and that far from women needing to embrace the public-facing toxicity of maleness – the fear of weakness, vulnerability, feeling, and compassion – men need to take a long hard look at what theologians used to call the "feminine virtues," because I think their stark separation from them is detrimental to men and women alike, fueling cycles of discrimination and abuse that have perpetuated themselves across human history.
It cannot be healthy for men to be starved from touch and emotional intimacy to such a degree that their only source for either is their wives, fomenting possessiveness and violence when that intimacy is denied. It cannot be healthy for men to feel obliged to project toughness, superiority, and dominance. It cannot be healthy to vilify gentleness, or compassion, or empathy, or kindness, or sympathy, or understanding, or compromise, or humility, or affection, or care. Yet all of these, a vast swathe of genuine human experience, are vilified and structurally denied to men unless accompanied by a degree of embarrassment and shame. That is toxic masculinity.
I keep thinking about the phenomenal, billion-dollar success of Oprah Winfrey, who built her empire first and foremost on meeting the emotional needs of her audience. She has, for decades, crafted a niche almost unknown to American culture beforehand: someone who gave voice to women's concerns without dumbing them down or condescending. And as her success grew, we saw in the male-dominated public sphere an increasingly mocking tone in discussion of her; first, laughing at her struggles with weight loss (a stereotypically female concern that she took seriously and discussed frankly), and advancing to mocking the emotional concern she demonstrated for her audience as "therapeutic deism," where "therapeutic" itself – the very idea of taking care of your mental and emotional health – denotes nothing but touchy-feely nonsense that makes you feel good but lacks the hardness of truth. The massive success she's received for meeting this fundamental need, taking women seriously in the process, is itself only evidence of the gullibility of an audience more eager to be told "I'm okay, you're okay" than to confront reality.
Which, even on its face, is massively dismissive, not only of women as a class, but of the very act of taking your emotional life seriously. Men are quick to do that, almost sneering at the word "feelings;" in fact, much of the informal discourse surrounding the discussion of gender relations infantilizes them as "fee-fees." And all that does is reduce emotional life as something not only optional, but demeaning of the subject. Feelings diminish men because feelings are womanly. And we all know how terrified men are of being even remotely womanly.
That underlines the essential fragility of masculinity, a concept theoretically founded on strength and resilience. Representing perfection, it is constantly under threat, weakened by exposure to femininity. If any embrace of "femininity" is demeaning, then that cuts off by fear of censure everything that goes with it, from emotional intimacy to hugging your friends and even to things as simple as self-grooming, lest we forget the "metrosexual," where taking care of your appearance was equated with effeminacy and by extension, homosexuality. Men are amputating critical emotional and social limbs because they don't want anyone to think they're gay.
But "womanly" doesn't need to be a mark against anyone. Women outperform men in ways we might find surprising: we earn more degrees, including at the doctoral level, and we are as a class superlative leaders according to Harvard Business Review, which published a study measuring leadership attributes back in June. There is something in the experience of being a woman that makes us more likely to be motivational, collaborative, supportive, self-improving, and results-oriented, and it's not hard to see why. We are so undervalued and demeaned that we strive to outperform; we are taught from a young age to concern ourselves with the needs of others and compromise, which makes us more likely to be experienced with consensus-building and teamwork; we are told we are inadequate so we are more likely to strive to improve ourselves. In other words, the very traits for which we are held in contempt are traits that make us especially capable in the most male-dominated sphere of all: corporate leadership.
There is a necessary humility in being a woman that comes from our ongoing position at the bottom rung of society. We know, in ways men don't seem to, that we are subject to the whims of others; we know, in ways men simply can't, what it's like to be tossed aside and dismissed. In the best of us, it fuels a desperate ambition that unlocks our vast and untapped potential.
So come on, guys. Embrace your feminine side. You'll find out that it enriches your manhood, and not the other way around. If we can learn to be hard, you can learn to be soft.
You'll be better (and happier) for it.
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."